METUCHEN – The borough’s downtown is getting an artistic makeover thanks to the Metuchen Downtown Alliance’s Public Art Team.
Last week, “Albert,” a robotic graffiti artist, created by SprayPrinter, slowly crawled up the wall of the building at 15 Station Place, as it meticulously left behind a trail of spray paint that soon transformed the blank canvas into an eye-catching mural.
The robot is the ingenuity of Estonian inventor Mihkel Joala, co-founder of SprayPrinter. Joala is able to create murals without even touching a paintbrush.
Armed with five cans of graffiti artist spray paint and attached by cords, a print head moves up and down according to preset coordinates dispatched by a computer guided by a human-operated controller.
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Albert can easily paint large murals in a matter of hours, Henry Patzig with SprayPrinter said.
Patzig said he expected to use about 12 cans of spray paint on the project.
Patzig said he became involved with the project about three years ago after Joala had come up with the idea for a hand-held wall printer.
“He wanted to establish a company and he was looking for teammates,” Patzgi said.
Five people, including Joala and Patzgi, got together and the company was established. There are now about 15 team members, said Patzgi, who previously worked as an industrial engineer, said
“Our first product was a hand-held spray printer,” Patzig said. “We managed to create a bit of fuss in the world and sold about 400 units around the world.”
Joala then began experimenting with large scale printing.
“We tested the first prototype about a year and a half ago,” Patzig said. “We printed a portrait of Albert Einstein in Estonia. It turned out quite well and we got a lot of attention because of that. Then we decided that this might actually be a good business opportunity alongside the hand-held printer. The product development is still ongoing, but now we are in the stage where we can provide commercial prints for customers.
“I wanted to develop my own style in street art,” Joala said. “I was a graffiti artist and I wanted to do something really different that really pops out. I thought this was really cool. It has come a long way and now it’s a business.”
“We have done about 20 so far with this robot,” Patzig added.
“The interesting thing about this mural is it is the first mural we are doing on the East Coast,” Patzig said. “We have done some on the West Coast.”
The mural, which is about 25 feet by 60 feet, features artwork by Ariel Rutland, who grew up in the borough and graduated from Metuchen High School.
Rutland, who owns Ariel Rutland Design and now lives with her husband and son in Yardley, Pennsylvania, said she has “happy memories” growing up in the borough.
She said “she was thrilled at the opportunity to work with MDA (Metuchen Downtown Alliance) to create a mural for downtown Metuchen.”
“Most of my graphic design work is print-based — materials you can hold in your hands like branding and packaging design, specialty stationery, book covers — so working on such a large scale with wide-range visibility was an exciting challenge for me,” Rutland said.
Rutland said she has seen pictures of the completed mural and “it looks fantastic.”
The mural Rutland created features “METUCHEN” in large block letters. Surrounding it are clouds and other fanciful artwork to evoke a retro video game inspired aesthetic.
“I think it’s a miracle we pulled this off in two months from start to finish,” MDA Executive Director Isaac Kremer said. “I have enormous respect for the artist and her persistence and commitment in delivering a high quality design to us, which she did. It’s exciting to be the first of its kind on the east coast and it feeds into this image of Metuchen being a place where innovative people gather and innovative ideas are welcome.”
The project is part of a larger downtown public art project.
Kremer said in addition to the SprayPrinter mural, the borough has two other art projects underway, Kremer said.
Stephen Powers, an internationally-recognized graphic artist, is doing banners on New Street and four murals at several locations, and borough resident and artist Ed Wetzel is doing a Metuchen-themed mural in a pedestrian walkway off of Main Street, Kremer said.
“We are rapidly revitalizing downtown,” he said. “Two years of work is all coming to a culmination in the next month.”
The cost of the project is expected about $50,000, of which MDA received more than $10,000 in matching funds from local residents and businesses, Kremer said, adding that the MDA is still accepting sponsors for the project.
Eric Berger, chairman of the MDA, said the MDA heard about SprayPrinter from Main Street New Jersey, which reached out to all of its affiliates.
“We said we would love to come here and do their first work here,” he said. “We were contacted in mid to late July and they are already here doing it. We’re looking to make cash registers ring in Metuchen and we thought this was a good way to bring people downtown.”
Berger, who owns the building where the mural is located, said they went with the arcade theme because the mural is located outside of Hailey’s Harp-Cade, a retro arcade with a bar and food menu, which opened two years ago in the building.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “It looks great.”
“I think this is an awesome project,” Moshe Atzbi, co-owner of Hailey’s Harp and Pub and Hailey’s Harp-Cade said. “This is a perfect example of care being given to the town by the town.”
Borough Business Administrator Jay Muldoon was among those who stopped by to get a look at the mural in progress.
“I think it’s a great example of what the MDA brings to Metuchen and downtown,” he said. “We have public arts becoming a reality thanks to Isaac and the MDA. It’s a great thing.”
The Metuchen Downtown Alliance is a volunteer-based, nonprofit, downtown management corporation dedicated to the management and revitalization of the designated Metuchen business district in partnership with stakeholders, residents, municipal government and other partners.
For additional information, visit downtownmetuchen.org
Staff Writer Susan Loyer: 732-565-7243; firstname.lastname@example.org